Nikola Pekovic stakes claim to starting job as Wolves put away Nets
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Rick Adelman isn't the type of coach to make a change to the starting lineup for the sake of making a change, but Nikola Pekovic may have finally forced his hand after the Minnesota Timberwolves' 108-105 win over the New Jersey Nets on Friday.
Much like Ricky Rubio after 10 games this season, Pekovic has outperformed a starter and has made a strong case for himself to be the starting center while he thrives and Darko Milicic continues to struggle.
Pekovic scored a career-high 27 points on 11-of-14 shooting and posted his third double-double with 11 rebounds, plus a steal and an assist in 25 minutes in what might have been his final time coming off the bench.
Darko meanwhile, played just eight minutes, scoring two points on 1-of-5 shooting.
When asked on Thursday about shaking up his starting lineup in an attempt to jumpstart more success from the onset of the games, Adelman gave his usual response about wanting to let things organic rather than making a rush decision.
"Someone has to separate themselves to change things up," Adelman said. "A guy does great one night and the next night he doesn't. Once you start making changes and it goes the other direction, then where do you go with that?"
Pekovic may have finally separated himself. This wasn't just a one game flare, and fans have been calling for Darko to be benched seemingly since he arrived two years ago at the trade deadline.
In his last six games, Pekovic is averaging 14.6 points and 9.3 rebounds in 24 minutes. Darko's averaged 3.2 points and 4.4 rebounds in 14.8 minutes while dealing with an assortment of injuries and done nothing to get back on the good side of Adelman, who has stuck with him the entire season.
Friday's first half was a game of runs with each team trading momentum swings like punches in a boxing match.
The Wolves carved out a 14-point lead with the reserves on the court. Michael Beasley hit an 8-foot jumper to make it 36-22 and the Wolves appeared to be running a home team off their own court for a second time this week.
Pekovic was 3-of-3 during this stretch for six points and five rebounds, the opening strokes of his big game. But the Wolves couldn't step on the Nets' throats and let the home team back in the game after they uncork an 8-0 run of their own en route to a 50-49 halftime lead.
In the second half, Pekovic was in the starting lineup and Darko was on the bench. The big man from Montenegro took advantage, securing his double-double with 1:27 left in the third quarter while the Wolves took a 78-71 lead enjoyed much of the advantage in play.
The Wolves took an 80-75 lead into the final quarter of play, but the Nets immediately came out and continued to show they weren't going down without a fight when Anthony Morrow converted a three-point lead to cut the lead to two points.
With the Nets up 99-97, Rubio found Pekovic for a dunk that tied the game. After a stop, the Wolves came down and Luke Ridnour hit a three to go up for good 102-99 with 1:23 to go.
A controversial call came when Ridnour stripped Deron Williams and the refs initially called the ball out off of Love's leg but went to the tape to confirm. Upon review, the ball was clearly off Williams and the Wolves got the ball up three points with 29.9 seconds left.
The Wolves showed their youth on the next possession, when Wesley Johnson fouled Morrow on a three-point attempt that he connected and made the free throw to convert the four-point play.
But Barea and Ridnour hit their free throws the rest of the way and Rubio stole the ball with under 10 seconds to go to seal up the win and send the Wolves home happy.
1: Game in the past five that Anthony Tolliver has played. His last action before Friday was Jan. 25 at Dallas. Adelman assured media that he hasn't soured on Tolliver and that his diminished minutes are a product of guys coming back from injuries. "He is someone we definitely have a lot of confidence and we will be looking to get into the lineup," he said.
21: League-leading double-doubles for Kevin Love, who finished with 20 points -- second only to Pekovic -- and 10 rebounds.
43.8: Shooting percentage from 3-point land for the Wolves, who hit 7-of-16 from distance.
Rookie Malcolm Lee is still recovering from surgery on Dec 30 to repair a torn meniscus he suffered during training camp and has yet to make his NBA debut. Adelman said the Wolves will be sending him to undergo a rehab stint in the NBA Developmental League.
"He looks like he is ready to play," Adelman said. "He scrimmaged (Thursday) and I think he is ready to get some work done. The medical staff said to give him another week to retest the strength in his leg and then that's what our thinking was."
Expect a firmer timetable when the Wolves return home Saturday and have an extended break.
"David Kahn doesn't like it too much so I am going to keep it."
-- Love after practice Thursday when asked how long he is going to keep growing his beard.
"I wish I knew. Maybe because they get per diem."
-- Adelman on why the team seems to play better on the road than they do at Target Center.
The Wolves playing Kevin McHale and the Rockets was an interesting storyline when it first happened two weeks ago. Saturday will mark the third time in two weeks the teams have met. Both squads have won away from home. The rubber match is Saturday night at Target Center.
From there, the Wolves get three days off -- unheard of during this 66-game season -- to practice and put their legs up. The Wolves then welcome another one of Adelman's former teams to Target Center as the Sacramento Kings visit for a second time. The Wolves won the first game 99-86.